Over a bite to eat, I asked a French-teacher friend how things are going in her new middle school classroom.
Aimée is French, and of course, having been raised outside of the only country in the world not to have a national foreign language requirement, she speaks English fluently, along with a third language.
She loves teaching, and her students must love her: she is vivacious and empathetic, and has a charming French accent. In Americanizing her name, she pronounces it “Emm-mie,” holding the “m” in a nice warm hug before letting it go.
She does admit to having the occasional recalcitrant parent, however.
“For example,” she says, her black eyes sparkling with the memory, “On the first day, I introduced myself and gave a slideshow. One of the pictures showed me with Nelson Mandela, but only one of the students knew who he was.
I thought this was a good learning opportunity, and asked the students to come back the next day with five facts about Nelson Mandela. They did, we discussed them, and then I made a multiple-choice quiz using all of the information they had shared.
Here is where I ran into a problem. One student did not do so well, and his mother made an appointment to meet with me.
She came into my office with a copy of the syllabus, which she had highlighted. But first we introduced ourselves.
‘You have an accent,’ she said to me. ‘Why is that?’ I explained that English is my second language.
Then she showed me her son’s quiz, on which he had received an F because he did not know any of the answers.
‘I looked at the curriculum,’ she said, ‘but I don’t see Nelson Mandela on here. I am concerned that my son is not supposed to be learning about this.’
I told her about my slideshow and explained why we had discussed Mandela. Then I tried to help her understand my teaching philosophy. ‘The grade is not what really matters,’ I told her. A low grade just indicates what you still have to learn. And in fact, this F is a good thing for your son, because now he will never forget who Nelson Mandela is. You see, he will have really learned something.’”
My friend spent a long time reassuring the mother about her son. It looks as though, for every 6th grader in her class, she may have an adult student to educate, as well.